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konjurer
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In the spirit of Dr. Spektors post about meatier topics...

How do you guys use music and sound in your performances? Although I'm only an occasional performer and somewhat new to the bizarre genre, I always use music in my performances.

I was just re-reading Maximum Entertainment this week and I find his writing on music, sound quality, sound checks, microphone technique and preferences towards handled mics to be spot on.

On music, for the most part, I compose and record my own music. I supplement that original music with period appropriate music such as 1930's music from public domain sources for my Jinn Box routine. I also wrote some Asian inspired music for my Scorpion routine. I think music enhances the experience significantly. Even more so in the bizarre or storytelling genre. Of course, the problem can be in the playback. Which takes some coordination and equipment to pull off. But technology is improving and getting cheaper.

So for Christmas I got myself a couple gifts to enhance my sound capabilities. First, I purchased a small PA at Guitar Center. Not quite following Weber's advice to get the most expensive PA I can afford, I purchased a little PA; a Kustom PA50 for $99. This seems to be a great little, super light weight PA for small audiences; say up to 100. It has a couple channels for mics and an 1/8" line input for your tablet or smart phone. The PA50 can be daisy chained with other PA50s so that you can add additional capacity to your show for $99 a pop. Very cool.

Although I've used wireless mics in the past, after rereading Weber's advice on handheld mics, I think I have to agree.

Weber talks about sound cuing software in his book but mentions that it is very expensive. That was then...today there are a cornucopia of sound cuing apps for my iPhone. I ended up purchasing Go Button for the iPhone for $19.95. Allows you to construct multiple shows. A tap of the "go" button cues up the music or sound effect and the next tap starts the show. Each cue can be programmed to auto start, auto end, fade in and out, loop, etc. Very powerful for a one-man show. These cuing apps are compatible with inexpensive remotes - some even have foot pedals for hands free operation.

So what are you guys doing for live sound and music this year?

Tim
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Brynmore14
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Tim,

As I've been doing primarily walk around and parlour type material, as opposed to stage material, my short answer is that I haven't been doing enough with sound and music. It has been on my radar though as an area for improvement, as has lighting.

I am a sometime musician and have composed and created music for local theatre on occasion. I have used ableton live as well as reason software in the past to record tunes.
I composed music for a dark play called Wolf Lullaby, based loosely on the James Buldger murder case. I used a lot of rhythmic sounds that mimiced breathing and heart sounds, dripping water (before the Japanese horror fad no less), squealing and slamming doors, pizz and bowed strings, dark ambient pads with the occasional psycho shower scene crescendo.

I also played with binaural beats putting out a 10hz signal just for a little mkultra vibe.

I used a lot of dimished harmonies.

The music was quite effective in a small darkened theatre.
Dr Spektor
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A blessing on ye Smile

Ok I'll contribute! Music used well like any element can elevate the impact and package of the presentations and effects... Done poorly ugh

One of our fellow Spookies, Arthur stead - specializes in this field.... And has some royalty free music developed for different themes.... Not arcana is a band that has let many of us use their music if we ask nicely Smile - but the key thing to me is

1) if you are going to use it, know why
2) master it like any other technique (not making it but when to ass it in like doing a pass etc)
3) make sure it is thematically strong
4) make sure it doesn't eclipse the effect....but synergizes with it....

I like using music to set moods, pre show, and post show... There are certain pieces that require music as part of the presentation.... I shy away from using it when not key to the presentations as it just adds extra cognitive load for people to process and they can get confused,,,

That being said, I collect soundtracks - for 25+ years - music can tell a story.... Also interesting is when you get to hear composers like John Williams, Bernard herrmann, Gerry goldsmith etc explain in detail the cues and elements that go into their pieces to tie into narratives, evoke moods, suggest themes of ideas and substance, summon cultural references and so on....

When I do full scale stage shows, I get. A sound tech - as you also want to make sure it works when you need it

:)

Thanks for starting a cool thread sir
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horus1
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This is fun as it’s a topic I’m well versed in. I’m a professional composer. (Magic is my hobby…)

I’ve scored over 40 films, big and small… television, hundreds of commercials and a multitude of other gigs where I’ve been hired to compose or consult about the function of music and how to influence people on a psychological level with it.
I’ve been doing it for a long time.. and it’s been a wild ride. Below is a sample of a few unorthodox gigs outside of film. Most of these I had to sign NDA’s for so forgive me for being a little vague.

A telecommunication company intending to fire a large number of employes and wanting to subtely make the remaining employees afraid for their jobs. (This as part of a multi- media presentation to survivors after the firing….)

An NBA basketball team bringing me in to consult “unofficially” on how music could be better used to rally the audience, and psycologically influence their own players and the opposing team during the game.

Composed music for a certain billionaire who hosted presidents and corporate heads. He needed music to set the tone for a reoccurring event at his residence.

I use the above as examples of how people are often unaware that music is being used to “pull the strings” in even a real world situation.

Music is powerful. Berlioz wrote on how even key signatures each had their own distinct vibe. Something that could be used to invoke mood and influence beyond the melodies and harmonies. The key of B for instance is considered to have a generally “wicked” tonality… (There is a Spinal Tap joke about this… )

With regard to music use in media, each performance, film or need for music is unique….but for the sake of discussion I’ve compiled a quick list of general observations that I’ve learned in my career.

1. Every piece of music should have a purpose. If you don’t know why it’s there or what it’s function is, it’s probably the wrong music or possibly there should be no music there.

2. Music should bring something “extra” to the table. For example, in film music, simply playing “action” music over an action scene doesn’t add anything to the audience’s investment in the story. However, play elements of the " love theme" over an action scene and suddenly the audience is being influenced on an emotional level. So… spooky magic or seance’ performance with traditional spooky music.. Meh. All you’re doing is reinforcing the audience’s preconceived notions about what lay ahead. The music can still be “spooky” but try to find music that relates to the material on a deeper level and adds a layer of subtext to your performance.

3. Think in broad strokes. Find a general style, instrumentation or harmonic component that relates to YOU, rather than the individual elements of the show.
It’s fine to weave in some Asian elements as you perform Outlaw’s Scorpion effect…but generally any “See it / Hear it” connection usually functions best as something that operates below the audience’s awareness. Unless you’re looking for some Vegas pizazz… You generally don’t want your show to feel too fragmented.

4. Less is more. The best compliment for a film composer from the audience regarding music in a movie is “Music?? What music?? I don’t recall any music in that scene….”. The same goes for a live performance. Contemporary thoughts on music underscore usually involve the composer saying what he has to say in the simplest possible way. So.. pick music that doesn’t swallow the performance. If you feel you need the music to work really hard, chances are the performance material itself could use some retooling. Music shouldn’t need to carry the show or scene.

5. Consider silence as a musical element. The best film / underscore composers consider silence as another tube of paint in their paint box. Use it in a calculated way. It’s probably your most effective tool.

6. Consider the unexpected. There is a reason why the song in the “ear chop" scene of Reservoir Dogs works so effectively. The unpredictable nature of the music choice takes the audience into uncharted territory and ties in well with the mental instability of Mr. Blonde. That scene could have easily been score but the use of source music and that particular song keeps the audience on the edge of it’s seat.

7. Consider non musical elements. If you’ve had the pleasure of catching SLEEP NO MORE in NYC, there is an undulating white noise that permeates some of the performance. It’s creepy as hell.

8. Consider adding an additional layer of dissonance. (Since we’re talking about spooky….) As a composer I am in full control of the harmonic components of a score. I have the ability to influence the audience as dramatically or subtly as I choose. On one orchestral score I had three different pianos. One tuned to A 440, one tuned a 1/4 above and one tuned 1/4 below.
I had the pianist switch between the pianos or sometimes play the right hand at pitch and the left hand 1/4 below or other combinations. That little bit of weirdness was something completely below the radar of the audience that added to their unease.
As working with existing music doesn’t offer that flexibility, consider adding in your own dissonance. A current film I’m working on asked me to help “temp” the movie so it could be shown to a test audience as there wasn’t time for me to write anything prior to the screening and my scoring the whole movie.
I found music that matched the general vibe of what I was looking for, but in some crucial scenes it wasn’t doing the trick. I layered in additional music that ran UNDER the music I had chosen and faded up and down to create a “wave” of almost sonically invisible tension that ebbed and flowed under the track. In a couple of instances I ran two earlier themes concurently and the music tracks bumped up against each other creating tension and release while reinforcing some earlier motifs. It’s something I intend to replicate as I compose the music for these scenes.
Maybe try layering in some subtle drones or white noise under music you’ve sourced from the 30’s etc.

I could go on.. and may post again on this… but hopefully these ideas help stimulate creative uses of music in your performances…..
Xizzy
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Thank you Horus, this is very interesting!
horus1
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You're welcome! Agh... sorry for the couple spelling / punctuation mistakes. Good grief. I was typing really fast trying to finish before the wife got home....
Where is the "edit" button?? ? It's gone!
Brynmore14
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Don't sweat it horus 1, after all I had the same thing with dimished harmonies, instead of diminished harmonies.

I enjoyed your post, lots of food for musical thought.
konjurer
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Great stuff Horus!

Your comments made me think about the music I've written and used in past performances. Most of the stuff I've recorded for a routine has been more texture than melody (ie, synth pads). I'd like to think that the reason for having music under the routine is to help set the stage or to quick establish a period in time or help in evoking an emotion.

Most of my routines are prefaced by a very tight, short story line to establish a premise or introduce a prop. Being bizarre, we seem to gravitate towards old relics. In my mind, it seems a little period music or sound (could be a radio program from the golden age of radio theater) that would help to paint a quick picture in the mind of the audience. Do you think that is an unnecessary layer?

Thanks for the insight.
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horus1
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Quote:
On 2013-12-23 00:25, konjurer wrote:

Most of my routines are prefaced by a very tight, short story line to establish a premise or introduce a prop. Being bizarre, we seem to gravitate towards old relics. In my mind, it seems a little period music or sound (could be a radio program from the golden age of radio theater) that would help to paint a quick picture in the mind of the audience. Do you think that is an unnecessary layer?

Thanks for the insight.



I love stuff like that.. Golden Age of radio theater. -I think it's great. a piece of upfront music to set up a routine could be cool. The hardest thing about the use of music is getting in and getting out.. so if you can do that seamlessly, you're good. Of course it's fine if you want the tah - dah too. if that's best for your act... hard for me to answer without knowing specifics.

Of the points I mentioned above they all kind of related to considering the entire sonic landscape of a performance. Use musical and non musical elements and find ways to sonically personalize your show while subtly influencing your audience. For instance. If you used a piece of golden age radio music, maybe pitch it down 1/2 step, or maybe a step. (Old school way... so it changes the length of the piece...) The sonic artifacts that result will make the piece a little "wrong". It's things like that can add an extra layer of nuance to the music / performance. I once created a sample set of tuned animal sounds to play as instruments in a score. They sounded like winds, but they were animal sounds and blended in with the rest of the instrumentation. Woven into the music on a subliminal level they brought a level of cohesion to the character arc... more than just notes, harmony and rhythm.

As a composer, we're just storytellers, but we are paid to understand the story on an emotional and psychological level and translate that into musical terms... hopefully to deepen the audience's investment in the story. Anyone can take a hard look at the music in their own performance that way.... get creative and take it to a new level.
Brynmore14
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In horror movies, the sound track is usually something not in or itself dark and morbid. Usually music boxes and children singing, things associated with innocence and vulnerability seem to be used. I think the contrast between light music and dark theme is in and of itself jarring, a form of dissonance (the cognitive rather than musical variety) that tends to put us on edge.

Also have a think about the way jeepers creepers and fallen used their theme songs. The songs in and of themselves are not dark or spooky, but due to the associations built between the antagonist (demon, monster) and the song.

Same goes for sound effects (think of the chi-chi-chi hoh-hoh-hoh of Friday the 13th, or the clickity noises of mr funny shoes in Mimic).

We don't have to invent this stuff, we just need to understand how and why it is used in other art forms (theatre, film and television). We should look at how music and sound effects are used in Play Dead and Ghost Stories, as these are so close to what we do.

On that note, I think I shall go back and watch Derren Brown's Seance just to see what is going on in the audio track.
horus1
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I completely agree with you Brynmore14. Great points!!
Brynmore14
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Well DB's Seance was very minimal in terms of audio track. Of course you had DB's standard theme music at the beginning and the end, but other than that there was just a little light piano music during the early introductory part of the show and at a couple of other points. Later when he shows a video bio of Jane (the spirit) there is a little music box style music, but that is as spooky as it gets. All in all the music was not stereotypically spooky, and sound effects were minimal. Also there was plenty of silence used.
horus1
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Sounds perfect. With something like a seance less is definitely more..

I think Todd and Play Dead had brilliant use of music and sound in their show.... Including pre and post.
TH1
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Great posts/thoughts on how music can enhance a performance and create a desired mood. Don't have much more to add on those thorough thoughts. But thought I'd share what equipment I use to present and manage my music. I know next to nothing about sound/speakers/mic technology. But I worked with a electronics geek friend (who is also a fellow magician and sound guy for a young performers community theatre group I work with) who provided suggestions (particularly on the microphone piece). I've been very pleased with the quality and performance of all these pieces of equipment:

Speakers. I wanted something portable but still providing excellent sound. After putting all that effort in music selection, the last thing I wanted was for the music/soundfx to lose the robustness of the original recordings. The Bose L1 Compact provides excellent rich sound for groups of 10-300. Here's a video demonstrating how easy it is to set up. This speaker(s) is almost a magic effect in itself in how unobtrusive it is, yet still provides a huge amount of quality sound. This L1 Compact inputs include inputs for a mic body pack receiver unit and your music source (e.g., an iPod).

Mic. I use an E6i Countryman earset mic with a Sennheiser ew572-G3 transmitter and body pack receiver. These are the same model mic/bodypack sets used by the above mentioned community theatre group.

Music/SoundFX Control. And to personally control, on-the-fly, the start/stop (with fade out) and volume of the music/soundFX, I use the CueCommand. (Full disclosure: my electronics geek friend is the creator of this device.)
Beware of evil spirits...and depleted batteries! Smile
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konjurer
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To Horus and TH1s comments, with the advent of inexpensive cuing technology its easier to have a sophisticated sound track that can be preprogrammed to be as subtle or as dramatic as you'd like without having to rely on a CD and a "sound tech" that doesn't know your show. I've seen some painful performances due to the inability of the sound guy to get the right track or cue the sound.

Now that you have personal cuing and tiny remotes, you can control every nuance of the sound track yourself. Weber gives an example of a show he attended where the sound was completely messed up for a series of performers. He goes on to say, at the risk of him sounding arrogant, that this scenario would have never happened to him. His point is that it is the performers responsibility to test the equipment, do the sound check, look for dead spots, check levels, position the speakers, etc. The cuing technology places the last piece completely into your competent hands.

Tim
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Ed Solomon
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Much tecky information here that inspires and informs us. The psychology of music and meaning opens wide avenues. From a composers standpoint, mood music can and does tranpose a mediocre act to one that sparkles. It's the selection of music and the volume at which it's played that gets us into trouble.
We've all seen and heard acts where the music was so loud that it was painful and audience members watched with fingers in their ears. Rock concerts where the vibration rattles against your chest are traditional but magical audiences are the place for that kind of sound.
For the spooky, a whisper of sound, like music from a shuttered room is more effective.

Several years ago in a book called SOUND FX, I wrote 20 plus presentations where the only "magic" was a sound. A twist of storytelling, where emotions were touched, heart strings were plucked, fear was made evident, laughter was evoked, mystery was uncovered, and all with a simple sound as the activator element.
Larry White wrote the foreword and in his own special way, drew the conclusion that a whisper was more frightening that a shout.

Background music is always the key to the action. When we think about it, the wrong music can destroy any magic act.

Ed
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Great discussion, and some excellent advice from contributors!

First, to answer the OP about live sound: I use a Countryman E6 earset mic (specially modified to be uni-directional instead of omni-directional). My wireless remote system is a Sennheiser EM100. Music is controlled remotely with the Ultimate Control, which stores all my playlists. (My favorite feature on the UC is that you can fade out a track, and the device will set itself up in pause mode, ready to play the next track). Everything plugs into a small Mackie 402-VLC3 mixer, which in turn feeds a Mackie SRM350 v2 self-powered speaker.

Second, relevant to this thread, here is a modified excerpt from an article I wrote for Magic Magazine some years ago. I think it bears repeating here:

Why do you need music?

First and foremost, music adds drama. It creates an intriguing mood or atmosphere. That's pretty good to start with. But music is beneficial in so many other ways.

You can use it to highlight key moments in a routine. Music can paint a picture, evoke a time period, create smooth transitions, maintain momentum, and energize your act. Mysterious pre-show music suggests an air of expectation. "Volunteer music" fills dead space while you're waiting for a helper to reach the stage. A personal theme song underscores and defines your character. And from a purely technical standpoint, music is extremely useful for disguising unwanted noise caused by "talking" props.

Perhaps the most magical capacity of music is that it can command the attention of a whole room full of children. For that reason alone, we can't afford NOT to use music!

Try a little experiment: Turn on your TV and channel surf for a little while. Check out a couple of dramas or reality shows. Watch a tasteful movie. Look at soap operas, sitcoms, news programs, and even product commercials. Also, think about all your video games. What common thread runs through all these visual distractions? Music!

All these forms of entertainment use music to connect with their audiences. Their producers understand that music affects people on a subconscious level. Just think about it: Music can make you want to dance. It can inspire you to sing. It can cause you to feel happy, sad, forlorn, or invigorated. Scary music gives you the creeps. Joyful music makes your spirit roar. In essence, music is what feelings sound like. It "speaks" what cannot be expressed.

Competent film composers use this knowledge to write music which draws the viewers in, allowing them to experience the on-screen action on a deeper, subliminal level. Well, I'm here to tell you, you can accomplish the same thing in YOUR live performances! With careful forethought, the right piece of music complimenting the right routine will involve your audiences profoundly and touch them emotionally.

The secret is in knowing WHAT the right music is for your magic routines, and WHERE and WHEN and HOW you use it.

I honestly believe music can make or break an act. Music provides an atmosphere which influences people in a subliminal way. By the same token (as pointed out by previous posters), the ABSENCE of music is just as important. You have to know when and where to use music, as well as when and where to use silence.

I've already described the power of music as used in media entertainment. As magicians (or mentalists, or bizarrists), we can incorporate those same techniques and use them to our advantage. No matter what sort of shows you do, music ... (used properly) ... will add a whole new dimension to your act. It will turn your performance into a theatrical experience as opposed to being just an ordinary magic show. Whether your performance venue is living rooms, classrooms, theaters or TV ... music can enhance your visual actions and let your audiences experience your magic on a deeper level.

Finally, I hate to sound like I'm pitching my products, but our music is written specifically for you guys, to benefit your shows ... so please check out some music samples on my website. The CDs "Make it Spooky", "Cutting Edge", and "Classical" contain songs that are especially suitable for bizarre presentations.

Arthur Stead
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Sicnatius
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For close friends I did a voodoo themed show while having all the time my original from Louisiana cigar box guitar on and playing intermissions between the parts of the show and creating sound effects for my presentation. It worked out pretty good but I never did that for paying customers.
My regular paid shows I don't use music at all.
Dr Spektor
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Aside - I have a lot of Arthur's music and love it!

Horus - do you also have a site????

I also try to get specific pieces of music I really love into a performance by seeking permission - depending on its unique narrative powers

Happy holidays - will post more when back in home country Smile
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Quote:
On 2013-12-23 08:05, horus1 wrote:
Sounds perfect. With something like a seance less is definitely more..

I think Todd and Play Dead had brilliant use of music and sound in their show.... Including pre and post.




in my seance shows I have church organ playing when they enter the room and are seated at the table. I want to recreate that feeling of being in a church like enviorment and find this starts to get people in the mood. Later on I use an organ version of amazing grace. I'
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